Officers union questions candidates
One week after the Stonewall Alliance held its Chico City Council candidates forum centering on social acceptance of varying lifestyles, the Chico Police Officers’ Association hosted its own version that focused on law enforcement matters. It was held just as the city and the CPOA enter into contract negotiations and local headlines decry a lack of downtown police patrol and an understaffed police department.
The forum opened with Peter Durfee, president of the CPOA, addressing the crowd that had gathered in the City Council chambers.
“It’s been a difficult last few years for law enforcement in the city of Chico and we’ve been the topic of conversation for some time,” he said. “We’ve lost personnel to retirement, injuries and other agencies at a rapid pace, but the question is why. Tonight hopefully we can get some of those answers from next year’s leaders.”
The themes of the forum were public safety, the seemingly growing transient population and whether the metaphorical sky is falling on Chico.
Following a one-minute opening statement from the candidates, each one was asked three questions from the CPOA, and then offered a one-minute chance to rebut the other candidates’ answers or reinforce their own.
Not surprisingly, the first question was about problems presented by the increase in vagrants, transients and “antisocial behavior” around Chico that has resulted in theft and violent crime. With the apparent difficulty in retaining and recruiting officers, how would the candidate deal with the problem?
Lupe Arim-Law said she would like to see agreement between the city and Chico State to use the University Police Department’s eight officers to help Chico PD in downtown on an interim basis.
Andrew Coolidge said, “The real question is why would an officer, at this point in time, want to come to Chico?” He said the sitting council did not support the police and that various police units had been eliminated in recent times. He said while police officer pay was “decently average,” the city’s future was not appealing and that needs to change.
Incumbent Mayor Scott Gruendl said it was important to support existing efforts to ease the situation and not put it all on the police. There are existing groups and agencies, he said, that need to do their part to help ease the homeless problem, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, services for the elderly that are not being fully taken advantage of and services for foster youth.
Forough Molina seemed to agree. She said the homeless/transient situation and funding the police, while related, are also different issues. “I guess as a very frugal person, I have to think that you always have to utilize your resources and there are a lot of people in this community who can help.” She pointed to various nonprofit organizations that can lend a hand.
Incumbent Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen said that funding is important. He then accused the city of burning through $20 million in cash reserves over a five-year period, which had put the council in a “delicate position of not being able to cushion ourselves at a time like this.” He said hard decisions had to be made as far as prioritizing different programs to see where police protection fits in.
According to Reanette Fillmer, the issue is much too complicated to address in a two-minute answer. “We didn’t get where we are overnight,” she said. “It’s going to take a long period of time to correct the mis-management of our funds and the failure of our council to support law enforcement.”
She said while citizens have been chased out of the downtown and city parks, “It is time that we chase people out of our community that have unruly behavior.”
Candidate Rodney Willis said the City Council’s priorities were out of whack and that the panel has not had good leadership. He understands the transient issue better than any of the other candidates, he offered, because of where he lives—close to the Rotary Park on Broadway in the Barber neighborhood. “They sleep in my front yard,” he said. “They sleep right down the street from me.”
He and some neighbors are starting a neighborhood watch, he said, which would take some of the pressure off the police. He also called for a tent city at the end of Broadway.
“If they don’t want to do that, they can either leave or go to Oroville,” he said.
The only disagreement that arose during the rebuttal time was between Willis and Arim-Law, who cautioned that while there is a homeless problem downtown, she doesn’t see Chico as “a dark place where the sky is falling.” She said it is time to be realistic because to consistently paint a bleak picture of the town will only help make it come true.
Willis countered by saying, “The sky is falling. Lupe, I’d have you come over to my house tonight. I live between the Torres Shelter and Jesus Center. Come to my neighborhood. They are in my garbage cans, the transients and the homeless, at 1 o’clock in the morning.”